ORANGE/SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: April 21-May 3
Leah: My intrepid red ’05 Corolla packed to the gills, the fur baby safely ensconced in the backseat and after an impromptu bon voyage photo shoot courtesy of my dad, Steve, Naali and I set out for sunny California, via Utah, Nevada and a tiny parcel of Arizona. We decided to drive so that Naali could come, as well as give us the chance to see more of this marvelous country from the ground. We’d also recently made the decision to call Colorado home for the time being, so a proper road trip out and back to our beloved CA seemed in order to pay proper homage to a place we hold near to our hearts. However, the primary reason was to see our friends Niki and Jeff tie the knot in San Diego, so we were amped!
Our overnight in Mesquite, Nevada isn’t really worth mentioning, especially since it felt to me like a place where Las Vegas dreams go to die—a pervading air of desperate despondency. However, we did score a pet-friendly room complete with linoleum flooring and industrial-strength AC unit to combat the 90 degree heat still radiating at 9 p.m. We even had enough cash left over to enjoy a greasy American-sized breakfast the next day as keno numbers flashed electronically overhead and most casino patrons seemed to greet the day with a cigarette and a drink. Stay classy, Mesquite, at least the scenery evident on the way to Vegas redeemed you.
We blew through Vegas after gassing up and giving Naali a quick walk, since we knew we’d be swinging by on the return trip. From there it was another few hours through desert and solar energy fields to Barstow, California where all my dreams were about to come true. If you’ve been following the blog, you may know that In-N-Out (the California institution hamburger chain) featured prominently in terms of food we missed the most while traveling and we were about to imbue all our senses with the sweet delight of some goopy animal-style burgers, fresh cut fries and thick ice cream shakes. If I tried to explain the exquisite nature of those first bites I’m pretty sure it would unintentionally end up sounding pornographic, so suffice it to say that our blissed-out euphoric state was very real and very appreciated after dreaming and fixating on these magical burgers for so damn long. We even had the added benefit of introducing Naali to literal busloads of Chinese tourists bound for Vegas who wanted to take pictures with her and coo over her soft fur.
Another task while in Orange County was getting my ol’ Dodge Ram up and running…and legal. Thankfully my grandpa had taken such good care of my truck that even after two years my quad cab baby started right up and even passed her smog test with flying colors. However dealing with the (not) hyper-efficient California Department of Motor Vehicles is a test in patience. Everyone is nice enough and people are clearly working hard but God help me if the stereotype of an overcrowded, underfunded and technologically-handicapped government office isn’t proven time and time again. And in other news, Leah and I apparently didn’t have to even leave the country to immerse ourselves in a plethora of cultures and languages. All we really had to do was go to the Santa Ana offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles as there were more languages and skin tones than the United Nations. I love it.
Leah: Yup, I was definitely riding a wave of emotion heading down the 5, and not only because we can now safely insert “the” in front of all highways and not have listeners cock their heads with a bemused smirk (although I still refer to highways as such in CO as a way of paying tribute to my adoptive CA home). I love the Rockies and the big blue sky I’m lucky to see every day, but I do pine for the ocean a fierce amount. We stayed true to our Couchsurfing roots and would be bunking down with our friends Jen and Sasha, as well as their two canine kids, Lucy and Denali. Hugs and shrieking aside after our glorious long-awaited reunion, it was time for the dogs to feel each other out but we needn’t have worried. Naali found an instant paramour in Denali, a gingery golden retriever, and even Lucy, the 10-yr-old curmudgeonly matriarchal mutt, didn’t snarl and growl as usual. Besides the fact that calling for “Naali” or “Denali” brought them both running in a confused tangle of fur and that their unabashed lust for each other had us all in stitches, it was reassuring to see a playful side of Naali emerge that we hadn’t witnessed yet.
Saturday morning saw the dawning of the main event, Niki and Jeff’s wedding in the hallowed halls of USD’s Founder’s Chapel, followed by a La Jolla reception. Not only did the events seriously rock some international flair (Jeff is Guatemalan and the couple seamlessly blended their cultures and languages throughout the evening), but Niki has an enviable eye for detail coupled with a serious DIY spirit. This meant that everything from the homemade lotto scratch cards and the personalized loteria cards (similar to bingo and popular south of the border), to the group salsa lesson (Niki and Jeff met salsa dancing) and Golden Spoon frozen yogurt station matched their personalities perfectly. We danced, drank, gabbed, chowed and reveled in the timeless friendships we were able to pick right back up after so long away.
Sunday morning meant a trip to Chula Vista where a dear former colleague of mine hosted a beautiful brunch for some near and dear folk. Once again I was overcome with emotion at seeing people in the room who meant so much to me and had experienced their own highs and lows in the years since I last saw them. The food spread proved nothing short of delectable and of course Naali was cooed over by everyone present as well. Such a delight to be in the midst of a stellar bunch.
blog post is here if you fancy a read!); they’re back in San Diego and figuring out next steps for the family and we found much solace in spilling our brains and hearts out to them since they’re all too familiar with the recent re-entry bit. I even got Ellen hooked on Goodwill thrift shopping and we both made our triumphant return to Mama Testa, my favorite Mexican food in San Diego and the place that catered our wedding. The owner, Cesar, greeted us like we had never left and we gleefully dug into our meals with a gusto only paralleled when I’m at In-N-Out. It was delightful to see the kids again, even if most of their time was spent playing “dog” in and around Naali’s crate…good thing Child Protection Services didn’t hear Kevin tell A that L was “probably in his crate” when she enquired after her brother. We even cooled off with some pool time and runs back and forth through the hose.
Steve: Amidst all the wedding revelry and friend visiting, I made my own homage to my old stomping grounds by visiting the San Diego offices of ValleyCrest. Staying true to form, all my old coworkers and bosses were just as friendly, supportive and busy as ever—not that I expected any different. In conjunction with several visits to some recently finished projects that I was involved in (check out the new County Waterfront Park!) this gave me a lot to think about in terms of my next career move, especially since I also had a Skype interview with a Denver-based landscape construction firm that had headhunted me. I found myself missing the fast-pace and excitement of working on high-profile projects and can now say that I’ve accepted a position at ValleyCrest’s Denver offices that should fill this void and more. I think this should say a lot about the people that I have worked with, that I’m going to work with, and the company as a whole. As long as we don’t get any wild hairs about travelling the world any time soon…
That Thursday was also particularly noteworthy because it marked our 4th anniversary and we knew we’d head to La Jolla to the tiny outdoor park overlooking the ocean behind the Modern Art Museum where we got married in 2010. This time we brought Naali and had her pose with us as we took shmoopy photos to mark the occasion (after we had enjoyed a happy hour sushi dinner of course). There’s even one in particular that wasn’t planned and couldn’t have turned out better if we tried; Steve and I are leaning over to kiss and the camera clicked at just the moment when her eyes happened to be looking up at us (check it out here).
From there we headed down the road a bit to Windansea, our favorite locals-only beach and the spot I’ll miss the most no longer living in SD. We also brought some of Minger’s ashes to spread, since we had forgotten to do it before we left on the trip. As the fiery sunset seemed to rend the sky to glowing prismatic pieces, Steve and I took turns scattering Ming’s remains in the frothy surf as our newest pup looked on. It was a definitive spiritual moment and while I was momentarily overcome with grief remembering Ming cavorting on the moonlit sand years ago, I was also buoyed by the knowledge that our family is a threesome once again and hopefully has many years in front of us to create new memories. Besides, I like to think that Ming enjoys the fact that she came from the depths of the jungle while her sister hails from the depths of the Arctic since I can’t seem to adopt normal American dogs!
As morning rolled around we got an early start and began the almost thirteen-hour trip that would take us back through Nevada, that tiny sliver of Arizona, through gorgeous segments of Utah, and then back through Grand Junction and the Rockies. As the sun went down and we crested over the mountains with the glittering view of Denver below, we felt relief as we knew “home” was tangibly near. Of course it doesn’t quite feel like home yet, especially with the familiar beauty of San Diego and the Pacific fresh in our memories. But home is where you make it, as they say, and at least for a while home will be in the plains below these majestic mountains. Although if they decided to open an In-N-Out in Denver that would really make it feel like home…
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